The studio coverage of the UEFA Champions League on CBS is rapidly becoming must-see TV for American audiences. Kate Abdo leads a massively talented crew that features Thierry Henry, Jamie Carragher and Micah Richards. Yet, those four often intersect with Peter Schmeichel, Guillem Balague and Jules Breach. More names can fill in, too. Yet, those are the most consistent.
Even for those that do not watch the top European club competition on CBS, those are major names. Henry, Carragher and Schmeichel are Champions League winners. Micah Richards won the Premier League with Manchester City. Guillem Balague broke the recent news that Messi was joining Inter Miami. There is no shortage of plaudits for these pundits.
Yet, that is not what makes this group stand out. Their camaraderie, personal interactions, somewhat regular slip-ups and analysis make this show more than just about soccer and the Champions League. It is entertainment, and that bore success for CBS. The broadcaster is sending the London-based crew to Istanbul to cover the Champions League Final live from the stadium. It did the same on several occasions this season.
The brain behind the operation is Pete Radovich, CBS Sports’ VP of production and senior creative director. For CBS’s soccer coverage, Radovich is the coordinating producer, which meant he played a key role in the launch of the CBS Sports Golazo Network.
This week, members of that cast spoke to the media about the popularity of the show worldwide and what makes it work so well. Despite the American target audience, the show has a massive following regardless of location.
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“People are very aware of our show outside of America,” Radovich said on the media call. “That has been the most jarring thing for me, as an American living in America. Being in Italy, and seeing people aware and come up to these guys. Italians and Italian journalists coming up to these guys and saying they want a picture and they love CBS Golazo is wild.”
Impressively, it is not just the fans and media, either.
“Then, to see the players come over and talk about the clips. The biggest learning thing to me has been the closer we can be to the players, the closer we can be to the pitch, the more interactive the viewing experience is going to be.”
On several occasions this season alone, CBS directly interacted with players on the pitch before or after games. Manchester City players came over in droves to see Carragher, Henry and former City footballer Richards after the club punched a ticket to the UEFA Champions League Final.
Carragher says Radovich’s idea to cater to an American audience is different than what traditional English media does. However, there is an increased desire to have an England-based show that follows a similar format to CBS.
“It is different from what I’ve been used to in the UK,” Carragher said. “It’s a lot more lighthearted. The feedback I get, even from people working in television, is that they want an element of what we have on CBS in England a lot more. To make things not as serious, maybe not so black and white. We have that on CBS, but we also enjoy ourselves.”
Social media a driving force
Social media helps that push. Clips on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram allow an international audience to see what CBS is doing.
“I think that is what everyone has latched on to,” Carragher said. “You see people on the streets, and they speak about the clips.”
Some of those clips hardly pertain to the sport. For example, the four behind the desk constantly take playful jabs at one another. Carragher and Richards would poke fun at Kate Abdo’s changing accents with her fluency in five languages. So, Abdo had Carragher do a simple American accent to close out the show.
However, it is more than just fun and games. CBS can tackle the hard parts of the game. While the game analysis is strong with experience across the board, the pregame and postgame shows delve into the deeper, often off-the-field issues.
“Doing punditry, it is like we are allowed to express ourselves in every way,” Richards said. “If it is serious stuff, when it is racist stuff or sexist stuff, we go really hard on that. If it is fun, we go all the way. We can go between the both. Why I think it has been received so well is because it is, more or less, the same four in the studio every time.”
For example, the significance of former players as managers came up. Carragher related to Steven Gerrard, his former teammate at Liverpool. Henry, a manager in his own right, understands the challenges that affords. Everyone provides something different. That includes Peter Schmeichel and Guillem Balague who are out on the road covering these games from the pitch. That gives fans in the United States the chance to see what it is like on the ground. Then, they can combine that with the interplay in the studio to make more memorable clips, such as when Peter Schmeichel brought out Kate Abdo’s dad during pregame coverage from Manchester.
Growing the program
Hearing Radovich talk about how the CBS crew came to be is something of a story. Jamie Carragher has a very thick Liverpool scouse accent. There were concerns that American audiences would not be able to easily understand what he is saying. To test run Carragher, CBS executives sent tape of Carragher to their wives, and they asked if they could understand what he was saying. Carragher got two votes of yes, and one no, which was good enough for CBS.
Well before Thierry Henry replaced Roberto Martinez, Henry mentioned to Abdo he was a fan of the show when the two were talking about the Champions League. Radovich knew that was the next phone call to make.
With Richards, Radovich and the CBS team saw him on a podcast embracing that lighthearted spirit he exudes so well.
“The first question with Micah was, we’ve seen you in studio and we’ve seen you in a podcast. Can we get the Micah that is on the podcast? He said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ and that was a quick yes.”
Radovich plans on building on the popularity of the CBS Champions League coverage. That starts with Saturday’s Champions League Final.
“We’ve got a couple of other little things that we’ll be adding that I don’t want to jinx because they have not happened yet. Interviews and such that are very high-profile interviews.”
CBS has over seven hours of unmissable gameday coverage planned on its platforms on Saturday, June 10, for the Champions League final.
PHOTO: IMAGO /Sportimage
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